Heights and Depths!

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Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Adventures for the intrepid can be as varied as far one can go, many travelers have become so audacious and ambitious as if motivated in conquering one goal after another.

After years of diving and continually aiming for off beaten sites, I realized there are still a lot of places around the country that needs to be explored.  I have learned so much from my travels and in many ways have gained new insights especially destinations that are closest to nature.  The rural scenery is almost and always a plethora of learning and new understanding of our culture, the environment and wide issues of protection and preservation.

There are few places that are close to my heart, destinations that are perhaps distant and advance arrangements are necessary, yet the urge to keep coming back was hard to resist.  Much that I love the depths, I am always fascinated by heights.  So that, a combination of both in a trip, is a real indulgence, actually a luxury. Climbing a peak or searching the depths is a real show of grandeur in all scheme of things!

Coron – Climb Mt. Tapyas and dive in Coron Bay

One of my favorite dive destination is Coron due its collection of World War II wrecks, the underwater museum have tickled my curiosity and I have tons of write-up about the mysterious wrecks. I was always blown away every time we penetrated the old ships, these silent monsters abandoned in the depths. My visits to Coron though, is not complete without climbing Mt. Tapyas to catch glimpse of my beautiful sunset. I guess sunsets are more spectacular to watch from a mountain top.  I would linger just watching, killing my time looking the horizons getting a good view of the changing hues.  Until the golden sun would finally ebbed down and the white cross would light up.

Tawi-Tawi – Climb Bud Bongao and dive in Bongao waters

This southern most cluster of islands in the country is not a touristy one, in fact some if not most would think twice before coming to Tawi-tawi.  Coming here was one of my most memorable trip, the discoveries were too precious to ignore.  We visited here during Ramadan and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the market was oozing with people and there was great array of food!  The locals were friendly and helpful, the town is naturally peaceful.

We climb Bud Bongao the day we arrived, we trek and were welcomed by the macaque monkeys with our banana offerings. Bud is the highest point of the province, the view was just unmistakably breath taking!  The three dives the next day was a great opportunity to explore the rich surrounding waters of the islands.  Well, the currents made it challenging! The heights and depths combination was just marvelous!

Southern Cebu – Trek Osmeña Peak, traverse to Kawasan Falls and dive in Moalboal

Well, this is actually a combination of three! The southern towns in Cebu have its own charms, so that in these three towns you have equally remarkable adventures.  Drive to Mantalungon in Dalaguete, trek to Osmeña Peak and be amazed with those peaks shaped like peanut kisses! Trek down the fourteen kilometers trail and traverse to Badian right in Kawasan Falls, rafting and taking a dip in its aquamarine waters is truly refreshing!  Stay in the next town of Moalboal and dive in its waters replete with diverse marine life. The awesome sardine’s run is too hard to resist, I came here again and again because of it.  Pescador Island is also a renowned site, the sightings here are too good to be true, mind blowing as they say!

Camiguin Island – Trek Mt. Hibokhibok, traverse to Ardent Hot Springs and dive in its waters

There a lot of reasons to be back here again and again, this island is also my favorite. It’s practically dense with nature wonders. Volcanoes, falls, hot and cold springs, islets, rich marine life and more!  Climb Mt. Hibok-Hibok, this active volcano is safe for trekking and it can be done in a day. The view in the peak is undoubtedly breath taking, but it was foggy when we reached the top. We were surrounded with white clouds, the trail was challenging at different levels.  It has a total of fourteen kilometers from Yumbing and traverse to Ardent, right in the hot spring pools!  A dip is undoubtedly a good relaxant after the arduous trek.

The island is perfect for diving – from marine sanctuaries, coastal reefs to sunken cemetery!  There’s a lot of choices and this island province is literally surrounded with dive sites in its coastal waters.  Mantigue Island is a must, so with sunken cemetery, Old Vulcan, white island and many more. All of the sites are practically filled with diverse marine life.

These are just few, I know there are a lot of destinations around the country with this ridge to reef combinations. New learning, precious discoveries and the realization that every place has its own share of wonders and the God of order have made everything in nature in accord with all scheme of things.

Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Balingoan: Underwater Paradise

By Angel C. Juarez
A Post written in Health & Home, August 2016 issue

In my continuous chase for offbeat dive sites in the country, I got a chance to explore the underwater treasures in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Heading to Barangay Mantangale with my perennial dive buddy Ate Claudia from Cagayan de Oro City one day I was enthralled with the unspoiled beauty under the waters of this laid back municipality.  Indeed, the place is one of the most underrated dive spots in the country.  While most tourists frequent Balingoan only as a jump-off point to Camiguin Island, for some like us, it is already a destination.  It is a small piece of underwater paradise that will definitely keep us coming back again and again.

Finding Balingoan

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Mantangale and Sipaka as seen from Balingoan Port

Balingoan is two hours north of Cagayan de Oro City, unknown to many, the waters around this small town that stretch toward Camiguin bustle with vivid underwater life.  Without a doubt, Balingoan is one of my favorite place in the Philippines for scuba diving for two reasons: its rich marine life and the absence of tourist traffic that  popular dive sites get.  This means Balingoan is generally unspoiled and unexploited!

Sipaka Point

One of Balingoan’s known diving spots is Sipaka Point.  Its sloping white and sandy bed is an ideal site for students and divers of all levels.  It is a perfect site for macro photography as well.  Ten meters down Sipaka Point is beautiful reef adorned with colorful corals and crinoids, and home to small tropical fishes and marine creatures.  Fishes like anthias, wrasses, angelfish, pufferfish, anemonefish, lionfish, groupers, and eels abound in the reef.  So do lobsters, cuttlefish, glass and harlequin shrimps, and different species of nudibranches.

Talisayan Shoal

Not far from Sipaka Point is Talisayan Shoal, a ten minute boat ride from the coast of Mantangale and a known spot for the colorful mandarin fish.  It was already sunset when we descended down into the vast coral area of Talisayan Shoal. Armed with underwater torches, we maneuvered around the area on search for the rare mandarin fish.  We saw the usual tropical reef fishes and other macro species such as shrimps and crabs, but not the rare mandarin fish.  When my torch ran out of battery, we ascend for our safety stop.  Darkness had already enveloped the surroundings as we sailed back to the shores.  When I look into the water, I saw glowing bioluminous organisms as they were washed away by the boat.  Indeed, the sea is a vast mystery and humans will never completely understand the life beneath.

Banaug Shoal

Three years after our first dive affair with Balingoan. We returned to its depths to experience and explore more of its treasures.  It was Banaug Shoal this time.  It wasn’t my first time to dive here but I was excited as it were my first.  We left for Banaug Shoal by speed boat.  This shoal is the house reef of Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), which for me is one of the best house reefs I have ever dived into.  The diversity of marine life in this dense space is unbelievable and the explosion of underwater colors never ceases to amaze me.  Snappers, butterflyfish, moorish idols, boxfish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, trigger fish and a lot more species graced our dives as well as sea slugs and other macro species.  They all made the small reef, carpeted with soft and hard corals, their home.

Lapinig Island

After our surface interval, we sailed from Mantangale to Lapinig Island, the islet in front of Balingoan Port.  It looks dull and boring on the surface, but what’s underwater is a different story.  It’s an action- packed world down there!  Not minding the mild current, we gradually descend on a sandy slope hoping to see manta rays.  There are reported sightings of manta rays in the site although not regular.  It wasn’t our lucky day though, as no manta ray showed up.  But the usual reef and macro species such as striped fish, trumpet fish, nudis, bristle worms, and others that I don’t know by name, made the dive an awesome one.  Soft and hard corals, sea fans, feather stars and sponges also added color to the scenery.  Sadly, some trashes scattered around the place due to its proximity to the port and residential area.  We ended up fishing out trashes, turning our dive into a clean-up drive!

Looking forward to coming Back

My Balingoan dives are truly memorable and I look forward to more underwater explorations and discoveries in the town.  The sea is a deep stash of treasures and surprises that I won’t get tired of exploring.  I can’t wait for another rendezvous with underwater creatures of Balingoan in the years to come.

Disclosures:
Angel C. Juarez of http://www.lakwatsero.com has been my dive buddy since few years back. I met him nine years ago during a Coron trip, four months later he became a certified diver. We have a lot of common favorite dive destinations and Mantangale is just one of them. Our last dive in the area was just this February 2017.

The Allures of Antique

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Every dive is like celebrating the ocean wonders and consequently proclaiming the exquisiteness of God’s creation.

We were back in the province this summer, it was unplanned.  My mind was entertaining the thought of the possible sighting of giant humphead wrasses in Pandan, my buddy got some secret information from a local.  Trusting and believing it was a reliable source, we changed plans and cancelled the Ticao Pass prospect.  My personal objective was purely economics, diving in Masbate was way expensive and requires two to three days leave on my part, weekend is practically out of order.  For me, time and expenses are always of the essence. It was a good decision in the end, there were changes of my Legazpi flights so I got it cancelled at no cost with a full refund!

Pandan Depths

It was a long road to Pandan, having flown to Iloilo we need at least four hours to reach this northern town. Yes, another offbeat dive destination and I was grateful there was available dive operator in the area.  Our dawn bus ride went fluid alright, traversing interior towns passing Banga, Kalibo, Ibajay until we got off at Nabas intersection for Pandan. We arrived at the diveshop before our appointed time and enough spare for the preliminaries. Our Austrian DM explained that it started raining already and we were lucky for a sunny Saturday but the waters could be bit hazy. There were no others booked for the day so it turned out to be an exclusive dive for us.

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Anemone in bloom surrounded by wiggling juveniles and guarded by clownfish family

Our first descent was at Mag-aba Deep Wall, it was deep indeed but the plan was at 32 meters and I guess there was no need to go much deeper, it was rich and colorful even at 25 meters.  It was bit hazy with suspended particles but still vibrant as it is! There were large sea fans in yellows and orange lining the wall, there were crinoids, barrel sponges and nudis. We inspected crevices, search around and float weightlessly. We found triggers, sweet lips, snappers and the colorful wiggling juvenile anthias.  Of course, the anemones with the playful clownfish caught my attention, trying for some photos but it was still hazy and not enough light.  We ascend after 55 minutes, with my air still at 80 bars, my deepest at 31.9 meters.

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This colorful reef has in every inch filled with life!

Out surface interval was spent on the boat as we move to our next site, DM Nikki entertained us with his stories mentioning offbeat sites islands away.  But there was no mention of the giant humpheads, perhaps he has no knowledge or maybe it was just a myth. Suddenly, it went downcast and started to rain with the matching lightning. Our interval went longer as we waited for the sun to shine again, but nil.  DM Nikki hesitated for the next descent with the weather condition, the rain stopped but it was still dark. It’s our take if we want, but in my mind it was a long trip and definitely one dive isn’t enough! Angel was hesitant too but I needed his consent, after a little prodding he agreed but warned not to go far from him. My face was splitting with a big smile. Lah!  🙂

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I was imagining Medusa’s head!

We splashed for our last descent at Patria Aquarium, and it was giving me hint why it was so called as such!  🙂 The good thing is even if it was stormy, the water was warm and calm, there was never any hint of current. We descend to a slope decorated with corals and resident fishes until we got into fish traps, I do still cringe seeing one underwater.  It was sort of abandoned but I saw a long trumpet fish trapped inside, I watched and wondered how long would it take the poor trumpet to get out.  We swam taking our time watching the anthias, snappers, damsels, banded wrasse and the perennial variety of clownfish.  There were blooms of anemones around, there was a shrimp couple lurking in a crevice with its long antlers waving. I summoned Angel to come over for my finds, he was  watching me from afar. There were fish everywhere more than I can count and name all, it was so peaceful. The anemone bloom took my time away, just watching the colorful animal surrounded with wiggling fish other than the clowns. I hovered round and round and I stayed longer in that small colorful reef with active marine life. Indeed it was like an aquarium! Unmindful of time, I was stunned my NDL went down to 1 minute at 13 meters, left with no choice but to swam up slowly.  We ascend after 62 minutes with my air still at 80 bars.  It was good and what a waste if we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the dark skies!

Seeking Serenity

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A piece of serenity….

Aiming for Seco Island as side trip the next day, we rushed to Tibiao after our dives and spent overnight at Fish Spa. Arrangements were made, all we need to do is drag ourselves out of bed for the 4am boat cruise departure. But alas, there was no sign of life when we woke up the next morning , it was dark and quiet. Obviously, it was cancelled and we went back to sleep.

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Trekking the hills was part of Malalison Island experience!

We opted to proceed to Culasi for Malalison Island, another gem in Antique sought by many.  Cruising to the island is easier being organized by local tourism office, but like other tourist destination it becomes over crowded. The white beach is packed by weekenders, old and young alike.  We went beyond the waterfront and trek the hills (with a guide) under the sun, the surroundings become brownish, the greens withered from the summer heat. The hills are not alive yet still fascinating in a way!

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Perfect for swimming or just lounging on the white beach…

Trekking the rolling hills in its midst offered serenity, only a handful went for the trek. It was bit arduous but discovering the other side of the island was rewarding.  There was another white beach, secluded and had a fantastic view. It was not crowded, just perfect for swimming. Perhaps, some other time we can frolic and just relax, even stay longer in the island. We sat silently watching the horizon, watching people until our boat came to fetch us.

No giant humphead wrasse and no Seco Island but it was sure a captivating trip to Antique!

Disclosures

DM Nikki gave us discount in our diving bills because he found us “nice”, maybe he meant we are well-behaved or courteous.  He offered us to come back again next summer  for diving and overnight camping to an off beat island!  🙂

This trip was like driving through going full circle of the province south-north-south, having Iloilo City as my point of entry and exit.

Our Seco Island cruise was cancelled as there were no boatman willing for the trip, it was the town’s fiesta that day!

Cortes: The Kujaw Pride

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Lush sea grasses, corals and marine plants…

Our quest for off beaten sites is still going on, that spirit of curiosity is never put to rest and so we continue to explore and hunt from island to island.  And most often such locations are remote, far-flung and most likely unheard of in terms of tourism radar. The town is off the national highway en route to other Surigao Sur municipalities. It is practically off-road, a separated land mass like an annex facing directly the Pacific Ocean.

I met up with Angel in Tandag after sleepless rides and again, it was another long trip for almost ten hours.  Saturdays or weekends for that matter are always in a relaxing mode for the town folks but fortunately there were people in the Tourism Office just beside the Kujaw Diveshop, perhaps due to forthcoming national elections.  We waited for our contact Archie (an LGU staff) who made arrangements for the day’s dives, he lives in a barangay outside the town.

Kujaw Depths

Our first descent was in Poblacion, it was yet high tide, but water movements shifting for the low tide was intense, carrying one back to the shallows, finning hard was necessary and it was just exhaustive!  The visibility wasn’t good enough, there had been rains in the past few days and it was fortunate that it was sunny! We found pipefish, Moorish idol, angels, triggerfish, snappers and unicorn fish.  There was these three snappers who were inseparable and keep by side near me, perhaps they were siblings and was wondering what kind of black fish I am.  🙂  And there was a herd of barracuda somewhat obscure from my point, which Angel tried to swim after, I thought it was trevally! We went around, found a patch of branching corals, and the white sand ripples underwater brought by the water movements.  After 45 minutes we ascend, our deepest at 18.2 meters.

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A field of branching corals obviously competing with one another

Our surface interval was spent on the boat, Jun and Ramil (our guides) have lot of stories about Cortes and its efforts in the preservation and protection of its marine environment. They were all praises for their Mayor (vehemently against mining), they recalled that dynamite fishing was a common practice even in neighboring towns. Now,  the surrounding  waters is teeming with fish life.  The fisher folks need to observe the spawning season, strictly no fishing is allowed during the period and they perfectly understood the reason.  The local government labored for the information and education campaign, respectively livelihood projects were initiated for the people.

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Giant clams abound in the area

Our second descent was in Uba Marine Sanctuary, the current was still moving as the water recede for the low tide. There were rock formations, some cavern and crevices.  There were variety of anthias, clown fish and herds of yellow breams.  There was patch of sea grasses, which I keep holding on as I went around, the waves current is pushing me back.  We went round and round in the shallows. After 63 minutes, I signaled for ascent as the tide movements was getting rough.

Kujaw Side-trips

After checking in our refuge, we make most of the remaining time in the afternoon.  We were aiming for the Laswitan Lagoon, the town has been known for this natural wonder. The gigantic waves from the Pacific whip up the rock formation along the coast, creating like Falls.  It was not in season anymore so what we got were clear pools trapped by rock formations.  The good thing was it was calm and so serene, it was not filled with people.   It was already late, but our guide still made us to Lubcon Falls. Just a bit off the highway near the boundary to next town, a small dirt road led to this small falls.  Its cold waters was refreshing enough after a long day.  It was almost dark and it was all to ourselves, our dip was quick but the sound of the gushing waters was a calming assurance of nature’s peace and tranquility, like a soothing balm for weary souls.

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Such a welcome from a purple/yellow tree worm!

Everything in Cortes is about simple living obviously not yet spoiled by technology advancement and so called development.

Unconsciously I mentioned Cortes as my latest destination in one of work chitchats and they were asking where? Sometimes even locals are surprised such unheard town can have wonderful marine environment.  I almost joked it is in Mexico!

NO, this obscure town is not struggling for visibility, but the sincerity of the local officials and the cooperation of its people have made this community compliant to sanitation, environmental preservation & protection issues that are required for coastal communities.  Cortes has been afforded numerous awards including the Para El Mar MPA Award as one of the most outstanding MPA in Mindanao (for Uba Marine Sanctuaty). This humble town is undoubtedly worthy for a visit, you wont go home empty -hearted!  🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip:
    To Cortes:         CdeO to Butuan by AC bus (10PM) – 4.5 hours
    Butuan to Tandag by ordinary bus – 5 hours
    Tandag to Cortes by multicab – 30 minutes
    From Cortes:     Cortes to Tandag by multicab
    Tandag to San Francisco (Agusan Sur) by AC van
    San Francisco to Butuan by AC bus
    Butuan to CdeO by AC bus
  2. Lodgings available in town are limited to Kamalig (home stay) and the guest house of Philippine Independent Church, advance bookings necessary.
  3. Dive bookings are handled by Kujaw Diveshop, a LGU operated diving facility housed just beside the Municipal Tourism Office. They have boat, complete diving gears, tanks and compressor for air refilling
  4. Other natural spots in town worth visiting are beaches, caves, Lubcon Falls,  and  Laswitan Lagoons/Falls in which the town is known for
  5. Single motors and habal-habal are available for hire for transport needs.
  6. Kujaw is a Surigaonon word for kuyaw (Visayan) which means dreadful, horrible, alarming, appalling or shocking but for Cortes in a positive way
  7. The Kujaw Team who assisted us in our trip and whom we are grateful were Archie, Jun, Ramil and Elpedio

Diving in SarBay!

In February we head for General Santos for a dive trip, it was a quick decision although there have been previous attempts, but deferred as I was thinking of the long land trip from Cagayan de Oro.  My friends in our special project  at work had been long recommending for the south, urging the richness of the bay.  Of course, SarBay has always been known as the tuna country being one of the biggest domestic sources for yellow fin tunas both in the local and foreign markets. It goes without saying that its depths held rich marine life and well-preserved environment being hardly reached for water adventures.

The long trip to General Santos left me sleepless but my transpo connections went fluidly so I arrived earlier and have more than enough time for rest, and later explored the city by myself.  The city has a diveshop I found in the net like three years ago but on a hunch I chose the one located at Tampuan Point in Maasim, the western town near the mouth of the bay. As it is, my dive buddy always afforded me to decide for the details of our dive trip, he has trusted my judgment for the necessary arrangements.

Probing Tampuan Point

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The depths is replete with diverse marine life!

Angel caught up with me very early the next morning for the dives, too early he had almost four-hour nap to freshen up from the sleepless trip to the city.  Rushing up in the morning, we arrived at Lemlunay Resort somewhat delayed from our promised time, but was grateful we were not yet late. They started to prepare for the gears when we caught them up at the shop.  A bunch of male divers were there already, I guess they were bit surprised of a lady joining them.  In a way, I tried my best not to let my presence an intrusion to them. 🙂

Our first descent was at the Kamanga Marine Sanctuary just a bit off the resort, but we still got into the boat (with no gangplank). It was high tide and the Tinoto Sandbar I was hoping to see was nowhere in sight.  Sir Joel was our head DM and Nolan as our guide, the guys were a bunch.  The instruction was to stay close the wall, currents can be strong which can pull one down and away to the deep blue.  We drifted awhile passing whips, sea fans and soft corrals until the current got stronger.  Our DM signaled to get away from the wall and seek refuge up the slope. We circled around up the wide sandy area until we sighted the turtle, everybody moved swiftly and the poor turtle scampered away!  We found a herd of shrimpfish, angels, moorish idol sand perchs, clownfish and variety of juveniles.  We found cluster of concrete reef mounds scattered around the area as fish shelters. It was a different kind of model, indeed lot of tropical fish like chromis, damsels, sergeants and anthias hovering over and down the mounds.  The turtle appeared again but swam quickly away seeing us!  As we prepared for our ascent, a blue ribbon eel came into view as if some closure of our search!  We ascend after 48 minutes, my deepest  at 23.9 meters with my air still at 110 bars.

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Reef mounds scattered in the marine park serve as marine life shelters

We had a treat of warm divers’ soup as we got up in the shop and spent our surface interval lounging near the infinity pool watching the blue horizons.  🙂

Our second descent was still at the sanctuary off the Tinoto Reef, I think the healthy environment of the depths is owed to the concretes domes installed in the area, the artificial reef greatly enhanced the marine life. Our DM after learning of our dive sites quest around the country was bit pressured to find us something interesting in our dives. We shun away from the currents and as we went around sighted nudis, shrimpfish again, chromis and damsels. Obviously, the diverse marine life of the reef is a clear proof being awarded as one of the most outstanding marine protected area of the Para El Mar MPA Awards.  As we lingered on hoping to find a rare specie, I caught up with our DM inspecting a crevice on hard corals, he found two bulging eyes protruding.  At first, I tried to figure out what it was, something strange. It was upset, it came out – an octopus! It was my first sighting of a cephalopod in its habitat – pure amazing!  It didn’t fled away, but courageously stood its ground and before it left, shoot a cloud of black ink, then left nonchalantly in front of us! It was a show, an actual observation of the specie’s behavior. 🙂  After 51 minutes, we ended our dive still amazed of our last find.  I went 26.9 meters as deepest, my air still at 100 bars.

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Seeking refuge on the slope, the currents went tricky!

It was worth the trip, the probe was more than successful and without doubt a future schedule for dive trip in this corner of Mindanao would be in order.  I am convince there are more amazing finds in the SarBay depths just waiting for curious souls!   🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip was:
    Cagayan de Oro  to    Davao       –   12mn Rural Transit tourist bus  (6 hours)

Davao to GenSan                          –    7:30am Yellow Bus Line tourist bus (3 hours)

  1. GenSan to Tampuan Point is 26 kilometers approximately 45 minutes travel by van
  2. The next town of Kiamba (Sarangani Province) has established a marine park, the LGU also offered diving in the marine sanctuary
  3. Again, the moon cycle should be considered when scheduling a dive trip, the current in the bay can be so tricky!
  4. Dive rate is considerably good, we paid only PhP 1,800.00/pax for two dives including gears.
  5. South Point Divers shop is housed at Lemlunay Resort, the owner of the resort is the head dive instructor, Mr. Paul Partridge whom we met during our surface interval.
  6. Lemlunay, which, in the B’laan and T’Boli tongues, roughly means “the good place one goes to in the afterlife”.

The Pulchritude of Puerto Princesa

Those “hitting two-birds with-one-stone” trips are the kind  that I usually look forward to, I found it more productive and obviously it is time and money saving and with trip arrangements in place, all I need is to extend one more day to accommodate flying restrictions after diving. Being the gateway in the last Frontier, Puerto Princesa is impossible to be unknown and more than that, the city evolve in tourism as it cradled one of the seven new wonders in the world!  And its being the greenest and perhaps cleanest city is not for nothing.

My dive plans at the start of the year was clueless as other priorities that needs my immediate attention were at hand, but the week-long official trip in the city was just perfect.  All previous visits in the city were too brief being just for stop-over to El Nido, Cuyo and Sulu Seas.

Puerto Depths

After haggling for a slot for a Friday dive, they took me in and informed the diveshop as a caution that I was alone.  Actually, the confirmation was last minute on Thursday, later I learned the water conditions was unfavorable. The big waves were uncontrollable and all water activities in the city were cancelled for safety reasons. So on that Friday morning, I took a trike though I knew the diveshop can be reached for a walk but I need to be early for the appointment.  It turned out the driver was not familiar with the streets, how come? – such a pity. I was much earlier from the rest including our DM and after almost an hour of waiting, we all piled up in the multicab heading for Pristine White Beach.  And again, we were a bunch, majority was foreign nationals!

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Although the sun was brightly shining, the waves were insurmountable.  At the back of my mind, I trusted the DMs judgment, and we all piled up on the speedboat after assigning our buddies. We sped off riding on the big waves, spraying us with salt water like rain!  Our first descent was in Crossing, the DM offered me to go down immediately thru the anchor line to avoid the surface turbulence, and wait until we go around down together.  Indeed, it was more calm down but alas, the viz was hazy.  It rang a bell in my mind, I must be careful not to get lost! Despite the blurred vision, I found active fish life.  A parade of breams swimming coyly at a distance, there were variety of trigger fish but no titans! 😛 And there was a turtle!  Our DM had to drag me to catch up but there was only blurry outline of the turtle swimming away.  I think if not for the murky viz, I could have sighted more of the marine life. We surfaced after 52 minutes, my deepest at 19m still with 100 bars air.

We sped off back to the beach for our surface interval, which is much better than stationed there with waves rocking our boat high and low. The Taiwanese couple begged off after the first dive.  We stayed on the shallows biding our time, the waters was perfectly calm.  With the sun shining and blue skies, it was a picturesque summer scene.

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As we prepared for our next descent in Maris Rock, I heard the friendly Canadian asking if it was safe with the big waves, and again I trusted the DMs judgment.  We sped off holding fast for safety, I knew the waves were getting higher!  The site has rock clumps scattered over white sands, the surface was still choppy so immediate descent was appropriate.  The viz wasn’t any better, it was still foggy but thankfully there was no current.  The fish life was much better, sighted giant puffer fish, clown fish, triggers, anthias and throng of juveniles over corals.  We went slow and perhaps I was more observant in the second descent, even with the haze we found cleaner shrimp, some nudis and a small frogfish!  We surface after 45 minutes, my deepest at 21 meter and with air still at 100 bars.  The choppy water was heart pounding in a way, but it was another learning to my advantage.  I believe the depths of Puerto Princesa has much in store even more in clear visibility.

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Around Puerto

There were much more to see around the city – Mitra Ranch, The Bakers Hill, the Crocodile Farm, the famous Underground River , the island beaches in Honda Bay. The last two requires more time and getting a quick hop of the first three visibly offered more improvements compared a decade ago.  Personally, I was more impressed what I saw in Iwahig Colony, it have transformed into an agricultural community with the detainees as workers and producers. The rice fields were maintained as well as the fresh water fishpond, other crops were also produced at the same time working with their handicrafts.  It is a big boost for all the detainees inside Iwahig, aptly the facility is now called Iwahig Penal Farm.

Unfortunately,  I failed to visit the public market , my office mates always aimed for pearls and dried fish getting cheaper deals!  Puerto has now a mall which is another improvement in terms of market & economic activity.  There are new cafes and restos down town, Angel and I used to have lunch in barefoot at Ka Lui for their delectable dishes and lounge at Atoy’s Café while waiting for our flight.  Well, indulge after a dive is the usual thing, and I went to White Fence for that French café ambience. To my delight –  the homey atmosphere, good food and reasonable price was a perfect combination. I think the café deserves another visit in the future!  🙂

Another Reminder

I thought there would be no hitting the grounds as I go through the transports heading home alone, the perennial flight delays almost created disaster in my connecting flight. I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I literally race for the gate as soon as I got my luggage from the carousel.  It was miracle, my final flight towards home was accordingly delayed and in less than five minutes after I step on the area still catching my breath, the gate opened for boarding!  And these are the kind of circumstances that prod travelers, which I correlate in diving as S R T A.  A dose of adrenaline was in the rise. 🙂  Just the same, it was another miracle!

Travel Notes

  1. I booked at Dive Puerto Princesa (www.divepurertoprincesa.com) for my dives
  2. Best month to dive is between March to August, January is still habagat and waves can be too rough
  3. There is lot of low-priced accommodations around the city, some have easy access to the airport

 

Charms of Camiguin

The island-province of Camiguin is a pear-shaped volcanic island in the northern tip of Mindanao. It is approximately 90 kilometers north of the City of Cagayan de Oro. It is bounded to the north by Bohol Sea, to the west by Macajalar Bay, to the southeast by Gingoog Bay and to the east by Butuan Bay.

This island paradise is inarguably my favorite local destination and as I said, it is so replete to cater for my whims and I have always reasons to be back again and again. My predilection on this island never wane a bit and last December I hit grounds to savor once again its grandeur. A weekend sojourn barely 32 hours yet it renewed my well-being enough to brace me for the year-end hullabaloo.

Cornucopia in Depths

If you are a diver and you haven’t explored the island’s underwater world, you have missed one psychedelic marine treasures and wonders. Luckily, all our transpo transfers went fluidly and we were already cruising at sunrise watching its golden splendor in the horizon.  Our divemaster was already waiting for us when we got to our refuge in Agoho preparing our gears.  The sun was perfectly shining and the water perfectly flat just waiting to be explored.

Our first descent was at Old Vulcan, after cruising for thirty minutes. The familiar granite boulders decorating in its front.  The large sea fans in variety of colors adorned the reefs, again I was engulfed in its vastness in a different world of silence. We sighted giant trevallies seven in all, there was even a tornado of snappers magnificently emphasized by surface sunlight.  Indeed there was a variety of tropical fishes colorful enough for my senses – emperors, angelfish, moorish idol, butterfly, spadefish, fusiliers, shrimp fish and assortment of anemone fish. I didn’t miss the triggerfish, and also the turtle swimming away quickly!  We linger in the large colorful coral area taking our time until we had our safety stop before the ascent.

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Giant clams scattered in the midst of corals!

The necessary surface interval was another colorful encounter and it was like shooting two birds with one stone.  🙂  We cruise to the Sunken Cemetery being our next descent, and we swam comfortably towards the Cross marker. I have been wanting to step on the underwater cross marker just at the back of monument. We snorkeled the surrounding area, the wide coral gardens housed also the giant clams and juveniles. Such wonderful discovery!

Back rolling for our last descent, we descend to a deep slope searching until we got to a coral area, There were nudis, feather stars, colorful chromis, damsels, bannerfish, cardinals, hawkfish, angels, clownfish and anthias.  We sighted too a giant puffer, a banded seasnake wiggling coyly searching for food perhaps.  We didn’t miss the cross markers, we found two just like last time, but more corals have tangled around almost covered now.  I hold on to Angel while having our safety stop, just too famished to steady my buoyancy.  🙂

Perhaps just two of the underrated dive sites but always rich and hidden surprises abound.

Summer in December

The God of the seas and weather was with us indeed, the warm sun and the flat waters felt like it was summer.  The perfect weather prompted us for more, to drenched in its beauty and seizing moments while being offered freely.  We rushed off to Yumbing, the drop off point for White Island hoping to find a cheap boat for the round trip cruise.  The sandbar is not always accessible even on early mornings. Last September while on official trip, the cruise was restricted, the waves wasn’t cooperating and we felt dismayed. Our visitors from other regions was just eager to experience the sandbar.  We were fortunate enough, a Spanish couple offered us to join them for the boat ride, at first the operator was hesitant since we were staying in a different hotel. But the Español was too firm and argued for us! Sometimes you don’t need to fight for something if it is really meant for you.  🙂

The white island was beckoning as we cruised in the afternoon sun, we were excited for the sunset! It was a perfect unwinding after our two dives, just soaking ourselves in the shallows biding our time.  There were few people, the waters calm in low tide and the setting sun was the ideal backdrop of the scenery! 🙂

The next day was all riding our way to the two falls we have planned, but we attend mass first in Mambajao church. We dashed off after a hurried breakfast over a motorbike, the driver served as our tour guide as well. Katibawasan Falls is still beautiful but didn’t tried to swim, we feasted on the kiping instead.  🙂  Tuasan Falls was something new, it was a longer ride though, but the roads were completely paved up to the entrance.  It is beautiful also, its catch basin was big enough as a pool, got a dip but didn’t linger long the waters was just too cold. But soaking in its cold natural waters watching the gushing waters was perfectly refreshing!

Coming to Camiguin in December was an ideal year end get-away. We are coming back for a summer trip to explore off-beaten corners of the island.  As I said, there is always a reason to be in Camiguin, again and again and again!